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Editor's Note: Migrant Musings in a New Age

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Anniversaries, like this year in which Investment Advisor marks its 30th birthday, tend to make me introspective and retrospective. Throughout the year we will report on the big trends that will affect your lives and practices for the next 30 years. This month’s cover story addresses this increasingly diverse, marvelous country of ours, and makes some suggestions on how you might thrive–and where you might find clients–in this future that’s already here. That leads me to consider the whole topic of immigration, which is always bubbling beneath the surface among my co-citizens during times of economic distress.

While some descendants in belief of the Know-Nothings of the 1800s might pine for some mythical United States where all the citizens have names like, well, Green, and speak as well as this writer does, they are misinformed in thinking that such a place ever existed. Just as this writer is the son of an immigrant, so too is much of the country. The Census Bureau found in 2000 that 31.1 million of the 281.4 million population of the United States was foreign born. That’s 11.1% of the population. In 1870, 14.4% of the population was foreign born; in 1910 the percentage was 14.7%; and even in 1930 it was 11.6%. Somehow the nation has survived for over 100 years with such a high percentage of “foreigners” roaming the country.

Moreover, were it not for immigration into this country, and the fecundity of those immigrants, our already troubled Social Security system would resemble the pathetic state of affairs in countries like Japan, Italy, and Germany, where restrictive immigration policies and low birth rates spell big trouble, and soon, since those countries subscribe to high social services and Bismarckian pay-as-you-go pension systems.

The irony for this nation of immigrants is that we live in a world where our economic and political systems remain models for much of that world, especially the fast growing emerging markets. The countries that remain outside that march of progress are those places where corrupt and self-serving oligarchies continue to preach intolerance and rigid social systems, often in the name of religion even if truly in the name of retaining the status quo. It reminds me in more ways than one of the reasons our forebears thankfully revolted in 1776–a movement that was as much economic, let me remind you, as it was political.

Another irony is that the sources of outsize returns in 2009 are also the sources of what could be a large, growing, untapped client source for you. In particular, this month’s cover story uses the research of Professor Jody Agius Vallejo of the University of Southern California as a launching pad for the consideration of the largest single minority population, and one that’s rapidly moving into the middle class and beyond. One of her findings: you don’t have to speak Spanish to serve that clientele. Professor Agius Vallejo calls the United States “the graveyard of languages,” noting that, as within other immigrant families to this country, within three generations of Latino families, “Spanish is extinct.”

While the language skills may erode as the generations progress, what isn’t extinct among those children and grandchildren of immigrants is a strong attachment, including a financial one, to extended family, a vibrant work ethic, a tradition of saving, a commitment to bettering the lives of their children and grandchildren, and loyalty to those who do right by them. Which all sounds like areas where an advisor like you could help.